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Actor Kwamë Berry Tells His Story; What's Yours?

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act August 4, 2014 at 4:18PM

Here's your chance. You might learn something; you might teach someone something.
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Kwamë Berry
Kwamë Berry

Recapping the series, if you're just joining us...

This is a feature I first ran in 2012, and it proved to be quite successful, because I received a healthy number of responses, most of which I shared right here on S&A, and all of which were well-received by readers. So I thought I'd reboot the series, and continue it, 2 years later.

In short, I know that a significant chunk of S&A's audience comprises of actors, actresses, directors, DPs, editors, composers, etc, etc, etc. Some are able to earn a paycheck utilizing their artistic and/or technical skills; others - and I'd say the majority - are what we've labeled the proverbial *starving artists*, working diligently, relentlessly, struggling to climb this incredibly steep hill, trying to reach some self-defined pinnacle of success - whether personal or professional. And still others exist somewhere between the former and the latter.

Where do you fall? And, as the title of this post states, what's YOUR story, and would you like to share it with the rest of the world?

I'm looking for your individual stories of struggle and/or success, regardless of what rung on the ladder you are currently on.

It takes a certain amount of courage to be able to be vulnerable and share one's plight, but I suppose that's exactly what I'm asking for; After all, not only is S&A just a source for news, its goal is also to become a community of cinema lovers where we can all share/debate/discuss/learn/teach/commiserate/etc.

Here's your chance. You might learn something; you might teach someone something.

So what's YOUR story? You can email me at obensont@gmail.com, with "What's your story?" in the subject line. You can submit your story in any format - written, or even documented on video. It could be a story about a current situation you find yourself in; or it could cover several days, weeks, months, or years. It could be that you just want to vent your frustrations; aspects of, or people in this business that enrage you; aspects of, or people in the industry that encourage you. It doesn't have to be all negative, nor all positive. We're complex people, and so I assume our stories are as well.

If you're uncertain of how to present your story, check out past submissions here

In the second of many to come, actor Kwamë Berry tells his story:

"You are not a role, you are an entity. Don't be defined by what you do or who you are to others. When you give your all to a role, it's hard to see how you can be fluid. But you can.. you are limitless." -Melody Ehsani

My love affair with film began at age five. We didn't always have a lot but my Mom and Dad made sure to take my brother and I to the video store every week, and a lot of lessons that I still hold in high regard stemmed from the movies I brought home then. I knew I wanted to be in movies, but so incredibly shy I was! All through my adolescence, I was overweight and meek, but always driven to find my voice in acting. Growing up in Columbus, Ohio limited my access to a lot of theatrical outlets, but when high school came around, I was able to attend The Arts & College Preparatory Academy, which led to my internship with The Shadowbox Cabaret Sketch Comedy & Rock'n'Roll Club. For two years, I was immersed every week in artistry, learning how to play instruments, sing, dance, and test my comic chops with experienced and disciplined adults. After graduating high school, I made the big move from Ohio to New York City, after being accepted into The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts.

My years at NYCDA were juxtaposing- enlightening, yet tumultuous. I was fortunate to be taught by some lovely teachers. I literally went from being a small town teenager known for being "that actor guy" in school, to being surrounded by people from all over the world- Africa, United Kingdom, France, South America- that had passions and dreams alike to mine. I struggled with how I stood out, and how I was going to make a worthy impression on the industry once gaining education on the craft. Once graduating and getting into the "real world" of NYC, you learn about "The Box" and what you should do to fit in it, and most importantly- What your "type" is.

I couldn't help but notice that every time I attempted to put myself in a box (the "smart black guy" or the "serious black guy" or the "lovable black guy") I was having less and less fun with acting. The whole point in me dedicating my life to this was to enjoy it. It was a duty of mine to make the decision once again. "Do I really want to be an actor?" It was easy for me to decide that when I was a child. Children, free of harsh responsibilities and grievances, are free and pure to dream as big as they please. But now, knowing all of the facts and uncertainty that's packaged with it, I had to make sure this was for me. I went to movies like Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy" and Tom Tykwer/The Wachowski's "Cloud Atlas" that sent inspiration all through me, and connected me more to humanity's complexity. I was able to accept the simple truth that I, as a human being and as a gay individual of color, wasn't the same person day by day. I have many moods, many points of view, many attitudes, that suit all kinds of scripts throughout genres.

Writing came to me naturally. It's very therapeutic to write what's on your mind, so it doesn't just sit without being dealt with. My very first play "Ursula" came out of my admiration for period actresses, like Dorothy Dandridge, Eartha Kitt, and Susan Cabot. The story revolves around a famous black actress in the 70's with a trio of children, who must figure out life for themselves once she passes away. It also deals with her demons affecting her kids once they grow into adults and live in her crumbling estate, separated from the rest of the world. The themes of obsession, family, murder and heartbreak run rampant. "Ursula" was accepted into the 2013 New York Thespis Festival, where we performed last summer, and earned a nomination for Best Play. And now, by the grace of Heaven, it's been picked up by an amazing production team to be adapted into a feature film. We begin shooting next year, and I couldn't be more stoked.

The journey into getting "Ursula" made hasn't been an easy one. With every positive step forward, there has been a naysayer or influence to come along. Some feel that the film isn't "urban" enough for it's target audience, and urban audiences may have trouble connecting to the complex material. Luckily, I'm the kind of person that if "you can't do this" is said to me, I will deliver anyway, with a nice "Watch this" to go along with it. This is a family story that sticks out like a sore thumb, but all for the right reasons. Regardless of race, audiences will be able to relate to the emotional hurdles that the characters go through. People of color are worthy to attend and be represented in "complex" films. Art is immortal. Once we make something and release it into the universe, it will exist long after we cease to. At 22 years old, I understand this and like my fellow artists, will make sure that what I release is sure to inspire.

Hearts and flowers,

Kwamë Berry

This article is related to: Kwamë Berry, What's Your Story?


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